My new church walks in a big civic parade every summer. My former church marched in the same parade. When I was there, I loved this annual ritual. I was always proud that with nearly a hundred marchers, my church fielded the biggest contingent of all.
I left the church just before Christmas in 2009. In a final generous gesture to my pastor, I waited until after the holidays to file my complaint. By springtime, the investigation was over, his guilt had been swept under the carpet, and my ostracism was well underway. Still in treatment for anorexia and trauma, I entered my new church in a state of terror, but I was determined not to let my fears get in the way of my faith. As the weeks passed, I gained health, began sleeping better, and started feeling safer in church. When summer rolled around, I thought I was strong enough to risk being on the parade grounds again. I didn’t know how much protection I could expect from my new church — after all, they didn’t know my dark truth yet — but any protection was better than none.
So, on parade day in 2010, disguised with a big hat and sunglasses, I made my way to my new church’s assigned spot. With horror, I recognized the streamers, banners, and hundredfold forces of my old church, staged right next to us on the same short block. For two excruciating hours, I ducked a constant stream of the purple-shirted army. Rather than risk one more cruel encounter, I hid — no, literally cowered — on the curb between our two glittery convertibles. Those were two of the longest hours of my life. I had night terrors for weeks afterward.
Thankfully, for the next two years, the parade organizers staged us several blocks apart. But this year, once again, the two churches were staged on the same block. What a difference three years makes! Far from hiding, this time I strolled confidently past the mass of purple shirts. I was a stranger to most of them, but I did see a few familiar faces. Among them: three friends who had been dear to me. I smiled and greeted them warmly and they returned the welcome. I spent the next hour catching up with my old friends and introducing them to my new. In contrast to the terror of 2010, this was nothing less than a miracle.
Why am I so much stronger this year? Because I am known and loved for who I am: a friend, a helper, a gifted organizer and writer — and a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. In my new church, I have support even (or perhaps especially) from the people who know my story. I get strength from my women’s “Journeying Together” spiritual group, from my online writers’ clan, and from the small but growing community of fellow CSM survivors. I still think carefully before I share my story with someone new. But except for the backlash that drove me out of my former church, so far all I’ve had is blessings. And now with this blog, I’m sharing my story with the world.
When I decided to speak and write openly as a survivor, I only thought of helping future victims. Now, the blessing has come back to me. The truth has set me free.